Neighbor to Neighbor celebrates its 5th birthday!

April 28, 2015 by

During a 2009 “Pre-Construction Party” in the still-to-be-finished space at 103 E. Sixth St., Sister Jean Befort, center, explains plans for the new Neighbor to Neighbor center to Janet Lowell, left.

During a 2009 “Pre-Construction Party” in the still-to-be-finished space at 103 E. Sixth St., Sister Jean Befort, center, explains plans for the new Neighbor to Neighbor center to Janet Lowell, left.

When the Sisters of St. Joseph first purchased the dilapidated two-story building at 103 E. Sixth St. and envisioned a new ministry there, they looked to their past for their inspiration.

“Our first sisters met the needs of the time,” Sister Ramona Medina said in April 2009, referring to the Sisters of St. Joseph who came to Concordia and founded the order in 1883. “This will be for the needs of our time — women and their children who may just need a safe place to connect with each other.”

Carol Ruud gets out among her preschool audience during a “Reading with Friends” storytime at Neighbor to Neighbor in February 2013.

Carol Ruud gets out among her preschool audience during a “Reading with Friends” storytime at Neighbor to Neighbor in February 2013.

A year of cleaning, clearing, remodeling and renovation followed, and when Neighbor to Neighbor opened on May 5, 2010, congregational president Sister Marcia Allen added to both the history and the vision.

She explained that the idea of serving “neighbors” — meaning anyone with whom sisters come into contact and who needs help — dates to the foundation of the religious congregation in 1650 France. “We start out strangers, and by being with you, we become neighbors,” Allen said. “Some 360 years later, the same approach applies.”

It’s now 365 years since the congregation was founded in France, and five years since Neighbor to Neighbor opened in that storefront in downtown Concordia, and the three Sisters of St. Joseph who founded the center continue to meet the needs of the women who go there every day.

Sisters Jean Befort, Pat McLennon and Ramona Medina are hosting a fifth birthday celebration at Neighbor to Neighbor on Tuesday, May 5, from 4 to 6 p.m. Everyone is invited to tour the center, enjoy refreshments and learn more about Neighbor to Neighbor and the programs, classes, services and activities it provides, all free of charge.

Sister Ramona Medina, standing, offers guidance during one of her twice-weekly painting classes at Neighbor to Neighbor.

Sister Ramona Medina, standing, offers guidance during one of her twice-weekly painting classes at Neighbor to Neighbor.

Also available for viewing will be a slide presentation of the work done to create the welcoming interior that is Neighbor to Neighbor today.

Longtime Concordians remembered earlier uses for the 1888 two-story building: An appliance and TV store, a Sears catalog center, a bar, an upstairs roller-skating rink in the years around World War II and an auto dealership sometime before that.

When Greg Gallagher, facilities manager for the Sisters of St. Joseph, began planning work on the building, he knew that the project would be more resurrection than renovation — particularly on the second floor, which had not been used for anything other than storage for decades.

On the first floor, Nazareth Motherhouse employees completely refinished the 127-year-old structure, adding new plumbing, lighting, a heating and cooling system, interior walls, a complete kitchen, bathroom facilities, a laundry room, flooring and all the finishings.

Individual volunteers and community groups — including the First United Methodist Church and the Catholic Youth Organization — also worked on the project.

When the center opened in May 2010, it featured soft colors throughout — except for the vibrant paint of the children’s playroom.

It also seemed to offer ample space for the women who would be welcomed there.

But as word of Neighbor to Neighbor spread, more and more women visited — and it quickly became clear that more space was needed, particularly for preschoolers who came with their mothers and grandmothers every day.

So Gallagher and the sisters began working on a plan to bring the upstairs back to life, in much the same way as was done downstairs.

Betty Miller, left, chats with Sister Pat McLennon during a baking class offered each week by volunteer Theresa Peltier, who is working in the background.

Betty Miller, left, chats with Sister Pat McLennon during a baking class offered each week by volunteer Theresa Peltier, who is working in the background.

When the second floor opened in August 2011, there was an art room, a small room for private counseling or meetings, two more bathrooms, lots of storage space and a kitchenette that looks out over a large play area for children.

“With more and more children, they really needed a bigger space,” Sister Jean Befort explained at the time, “and going up was the only way we could provide that.”

Again, Motherhouse employees did the bulk of the work, with help from any number of volunteers.

Volunteers continue to pay a vital role at Neighbor to Neighbor today, teaching classes, helping in the kitchen and just providing a sympathetic ear.

From Monday through Friday, the sisters and volunteers offer classes and services that range from one-on-one tutoring for GED exams to providing a place to do laundry or take showers. On any given day, there may be personalized instruction in sewing, baking, lace- and jewelrymaking, household budgeting and painting.

And, for some moms, the center has become a place to go with their young children, to give the kids a chance to play and the moms a chance to befriend other moms. There are organized “play groups” two days a week and more informal activity in the playroom the rest of the week.

Some of the most successful efforts include the “Little Dresses for Africa” project, in which women at Neighbor to Neighbor have made and donated more than 700 dresses; “Reading with Friends,” a preschool storytime that began in 2012 and provides free books to the families taking part; and the annual Holiday Boutique, where women have the opportunity to sell the artworks and craft items they have made at the center.

There is never any cost to the women taking part in any of the programs; all the instruction and materials are offered free, with funding coming from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, a handful of grants and individual donations.

“This is about one neighbor helping another,” as Sister Ramona explains it.

 

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